The real fight in Gelang Patah has not started but with an expected gigantic clash on the cards, life will never be the same again in this constituency.
IT’S 10.30pm on a Friday night at Jalan Penyiaran 46 in Taman Universiti, Skudai, about 5km from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia campus, and DAP leader Lim Kit Siang is holding court.
Unlike the usually predominantly Chinese areas he is more comfortable with, he has chosen this racially-mixed 30-year-old housing estate to campaign.
The owner of a kindergarten, the Taska Pasti Siswa Satu, has allowed its corner-lot premises to be used for the ceramah.
The front wall at the entrance of the kindergarten, presumably run by a PAS supporter, declares the premises to be a zon tutup aurat (Islamic dress code zone).
Years ago, no one would have imagined Lim speaking at a PAS-sponsored ceramah, let alone in the company of party leaders in serbans and flowing robes.
Still, the 300-plus crowd was overwhelmingly Chinese, with a handful of Malays while one could count the number of Indians in one hand.
The residents comprise mostly Malay families staying in single-storey houses and some of them declared their political allegiance by putting up Barisan Nasional flags and banners along the roads but Pakatan Rakyat is unfazed.
Even at 72, Lim has plenty of fire in his belly. His speeches are fiery and punchy, as was clearly demonstrated that Friday night.
Kicking off his speech, he led the crowd, in Mandarin, chanting continuously “that on May 5, the government will be changed”.
Then, he rapidly fired his ammunition against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for allegedly portraying him as a Chinese chauvinist who played a role in the May 13 racial clashes.
He drew his firepower from the yet-to-be publicly released movie Tanda Putera and Bahasa Malaysia newspaper Utusan Malaysia. He kept his admirers cheering with his trademark oratory, switching easily from Mandarin to Bahasa Malaysia.
Obviously, the continuous bombardment by Johor Umno that the DAP should not be allowed to enter the state, a fortress of Umno, has put the Rocket in a fighting mode, especially among the Malays. Others say it is in defensive mode.
While DAP has been able to gather massive Chinese crowds in Johor, Lim is still struggling to find Malay listeners. Even at Jalan Penyiaran, under the Gelang Patah constituency, the ones holding PAS flags were young Chinese listeners, who are presumably DAP loyalists first.
Some willingly gave donations when PAS activists passed plastic bags around while others curiously looked at the party paraphernalia on sale outside the kindergarten including stickers with a Manchester United emblem that has been changed to Muslimin United.
Just before Lim spoke, PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub brought up the same issue, declaring that Lim was not a racist but a national patriot.
“This is not about winning elections and getting positions and allowances but about changing the government,” the Kubang Kerian MP said, adding that if he wanted to keep his job, he would have defended his constituency in Kelantan.
The Johor-born politician said he had volunteered to fight in this Johor Umno stronghold at great political risks, as the crowd clapped in approval.
Seeing the largely-Chinese crowd, he assured them that there would be no racial problems after the May 5 polls.
“I am also half Chinese. My mother is Chinese. My friends used to joke that if I failed in politics, I could be an actor in Hong Kong as I am more handsome than Jackie Chan,” he said.
Ironically, Salahuddin is also a beneficiary of MCA as he had studied at Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman.
As he ended his speech, parts of which were in English, a Chinese man, presumably planted by the organisers, stood up to pose a question.
Claiming to be a fence-sitter, he said he was concerned with talks of hudud laws, which was on the PAS agenda, as he had a family. He talked about the strict Islamic laws of having to find four witnesses if his wife or daughter was raped. He wanted to know if criminals would have their hands chopped off.
Salahuddin told him that the Chinese should be concerned with a safe environment to carry out their businesses, citing the “clean governments” of Kelantan, Penang, Kedah and Selangor under Pakatan.
He said it was time for communal-based political parties to go as Malaysians should no longer be divided into Malays, Chinese and Indians.
The Islamist party, he vowed, would protect the Chinese if there were riots, giving an assurance that they should have no fear.
“Let us win Putrajaya first. There are many things to do, we can talk about that (Islamic state) later,” he said, without committing himself or the party to the question.
Another speaker was Dr Boo Cheng Hau, the Johor DAP chief who has been in the news for clashing with his Johor PKR counterpart Datuk Chua Jui Meng. His command of Bahasa Malaysia has improved tremendously but his speech fell flat and he could not command the attention of the crowd like the two veterans.
By the time I left the area, it was near midnight. I had trouble finding my way around to head towards Johor Baru, even with the GPS.
I stopped to ask for directions from two Indian women, who were walking by. A little wary at first to see two men in a car stopping abruptly, they seemed assured after talking to us.
When they asked what we were doing in the area at the time, I said we had just finished listening to a Pakatan Rakyat ceramah. Taking the opportunity, I asked how they would vote in the general election. One said she was not a registered voter while the other said she would vote for Barisan.
I would have wished to listen to her more but there is still time, as I continue to be on the road to listen to the ground.
The real fight in Gelang Patah has not started but with an expected Lim Kit Siang-Datuk Ghani Othman clash on the cards, life will never be the same again in this constituency.